Molecular Biology


Astrobiological research at the Department of Molecular Biology and Functional Genomics focuses on two important aspects of early life on Earth.

Using both experimental molecular as well as computational techniques, ribonucleotide reductases (RNR) - an enzyme family that is crucial for the synthesis of the building blocks of DNA - are studied. RNR catalyzes the reaction that provides DNA-precursors in all cells, and thereby also regulates cellular replication and proliferation. RNRs come in three major classes and within and between those classes exhibit a significant level of sequence divergence, making standard techniques for the study of their origin and evolution hard to apply. By reconstructing and synthesizing ancestral RNRs, light can hopefully be shed on this question. Additionally, characterization and comparison of insertion sites of self-splicing elements can give clues to why RNR genes are such frequent hosts for them, and their potential role in the horizontal transfer of RNR genes between organisms.

The departments second interest lies within the field of early genome organization and evolution, where the possible structure of the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) of modern life (i.e. Bacteria, Archaea and Eukaryotes) is investigated. Particularly interesting questions involve the origin of messenger RNA, the bridge between a hypothetical ancient RNA world and modern DNA-Protein life.

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